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Hospital Wards Close As Strike By Zimbabwe Doctors Continues

Several wards were closed Thursday at Harare's Parirenyatwa Hospital as a strike by doctors and nurses continued despite a fresh government negotiating initiative, representatives of the striking doctors and other sources said.

Those wards still in operation were being staffed by student nurses, while a few non-Zimbabwean doctors and senior consulting physicians attended to critical cases.

A representative of the striking nurses at Parirenyatwa Hospital said they met today and agreed not to go back to work until the government responds to grievances.

The nurses now earn about Z$150,000 $(US$35) a month and are demanding a Z$3 million to Z$4.5 million (US$715-US$1,070) monthly salary. The doctors want to see an increase in their salaries to at least Z$5 million US$1,190) a month, despite the general increase of 300% in public sector salaries just put into effect.

Deputy Health Minister Edwin Muguti said in an interview that the official position with regard to the striking doctors has not changed, despite the entry into the situation of Defense Minister Sydney Sekeremai as acting minister of health following the abrupt departure on leave of Health Minister David Parirenyatwa earlier this week.

Muguti said the doctors received a “handsome package” so their refusal to return to work could signal that they they have “a political agenda, which is outside the realms of the profession." Muguti has taken a hard line in the strike, telling the doctors last week that they had to return to work or should consider themselves dismissed.

Dr Henry Madzorere, health secretary for the Movement for Democratic Change faction of Morgan Tsvangirai, told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that such remarks explain why Harare has failed to resolve the strike.

Meanwhile, the MDC faction headed by Arthur Mutambara issued a statement that expressed concern with the crisis and called on Parirenyatwa to return to his post within 24 hours or "admit that he has failed and honorably resign".

Meanwhile, as the strike continues, members of the National Pastors Conference are visiting patients to give them encouragement and pray with them.

Pastors in the capital paid visits to Parirenyatwa Hospital and Harare central hospital while their colleagues other cities and towns around Zimbabwe did the same. The pastors urged the government to respond to the demands of the health care professionals and restore services before more lives were damaged.

Pastor Ancelom Magaya told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the pastors will step up their visits to Zimbabwe hospitals even if the five-week strike is resolved.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...